The Pizzitola Sports Center is a bizarre place to watch a college basketball game. It is a low-slung, wide building from the outside, connected to Brown's hockey rink next door. Inside, the sidelines of the court are flanked by low bleachers; on one side, there is a small second deck hung over the bleachers. On the baselines, two sets of high risers contain most of the seating capacity. One of these sections is supposed to be the Brown student section.
Fairly or unfairly, there is a perception that Brown cares the least about athletics of any school in the Ivy League. The campus is full of brilliant students doing amazing things, but it is also fiercely independent. There is no core curriculum at Brown, which allows for a very heterogenous student body. My friends tell me they love it in Providence, but that the student body lacks cohesion.
At last year's Brown-Harvard game, the student section's bleacher was about a third full. Most of that student contingent appeared to be athletes. The announced attendance was 1,500. It felt far fewer than that.
This year, however, the attendance was over 2,000. The Ivy League-leading Harvard Crimson were the draw that brought students and fans to make the walk up Thayer Street. This year, the student bleachers were full, and loud. At the heart of this was, again, a group of about 35 football players and other athletes.
I have seen this phenomenon before. At schools like Harvard and Brown, athletes share a particularly tight bond across sports. Of course, there are easy explanations for this: people tend to group more closely with others they are more similar to, and athletes share common traits. But athletes at Ivy League schools have the shared experience of attempting to balance what amounts to a full time job--athletes routinely spend upwards of 30 or 40 hours a week pursuing their sport--with the rigors of a fantastic education. That's not even mentioning attempting to have a normal social life. These three things form an impossible triad: you cannot succeed to your fullest at all three; you must sacrifice some of one for the other two.
So I was not at all surprised to see that the student section, led by athletes, was loud in support of its team. Early on, however, they did not have much to cheer about. Harvard, coming off a 30-point pasting of Yale, was not about to have a letdown. Kyle Casey had six early points, and Brandyn Curry had three assists to put Harvard up 15-5 five minutes into the game.
The Bears, however, refused to give in. Sophomore transfer Stephen Albrecht hit two ridiculous 3-pointers, one from about 26 feet, and assisted on a Matt Sullivan layup. The crowd got loud again. For the rest of the half, the Bears did an admirable job defending the larger Crimson inside. Dockery Walker and Andrew McCarthy combined to shut down Keith Wright inside. The Bears managed to close the half only down 31-27.
Coach Tommy Amaker gave his team an especially long halftime talk, and the Crimson came out with under 3 minutes remaining until the start of the second half. Like the champions they would become, they went on a run to quiet the loud Brown fans. Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry combined for three straight steals of Bears point guard Sean McGonagill, and Brown did not attempt a shot on their first four possessions of the half. Three minutes into the half, McCarthy missed a layup, and Kyle Casey found himself with the ball running in transition. Casey proceeded to throw down his biggest dunk of the season, directly into the faces of the Brown student section. The lead was ten.
The lead would never dip lower than eight points. The Bears continued to fight, and coach Jesse Agel continued to stomp on the sidelines, but it simply was not enough against Harvard. Forward Tyler Ponticelli fouled out with over 13 minutes remaining in the game, shortening the Bears' rotation inside further. The final margin was nine points, but the game was never really in doubt with less than 10 minutes remaining.
As the fans filed out of the Pizzitola Sports Center, I felt empathy for the Brown players. That was undoubtedly the largest home crowd they would play in front of this season. Besides the core group of athletes, student support at Brown games seems limited. For all of the time they have put in, teams like Brown deserve more.
HARVARD 68, at BROWN 59 01/28/2012
HARVARD 18-2 (4-0) -- B. Curry 3-8 8-9 15; O. McNally 2-6 0-0 4; L. Rivard 1-3 4-4 7; K. Casey 9-15 2-2 20; K. Wright 4-6 1-2 9; S. Moundou-Missi 3-6 0-0 6; C. Miller 0-1 0-0 0; C. Webster 0-0 1-2 1; J. Travis 1-2 4-4 6; W. Saunders 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-47 20-23 68. BROWN 7-14 (1-3) -- S. McGonagill 3-13 2-2 11; S. Albrecht 5-10 0-0 13; A. McCarthy 4-10 5-9 13; D. Walker 5-8 0-4 10; M. Sullivan 3-10 4-5 12; T. Ponticelli 0-1 0-0 0; J. Harris 0-1 0-0 0; T. Lundevall 0-1 0-0 0; Y. Longi 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-54 11-20 59.
Three-point goals: HARV 2-8 (O. McNally 0-2; K. Casey 0-1; B. Curry 1-3; L. Rivard 1-2), BRWN 8-22 (S. Albrecht 3-7; J. Harris 0-1; M. Sullivan 2-5; S. McGonagill 3-8; T. Lundevall 0-1); Rebounds: HARV 38 (K. Wright 11), BRWN 23 (S. McGonagill 7); Assists: HARV 10 (B. Curry 4), BRWN 13 (S. Albrecht 4); Total Fouls -- HARV 14, BRWN 17; Fouled Out: HARV-None; BRWN-T. Ponticelli.